Capital punishment refers to the legal means of inflicting of death as a penalty. It has been applied since primeval times for an extensive diversity of offences. The opponents of capital punishment argue that legal executions infringe on the condemned person’s right to life. While the capital punishment proponents frequently attempt to contradict this argument, by emphasizing that, individuals convicted of capital offences have in essence, forfeited their alleged right to life (Batchelder 61). This paper posits to investigate whether the death sentence reduces the motivation to commit homicide and whether it is solid ultimatum to criminals in the U.S.
OVERVIEW OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN THE U.S
In the U.S., capital punishment was introduced by European settlers particularly from Great Britain. The initial recorded execution in the U.S occurred in 1608, in Jamestown. The victim was George Kendall who was put to death on allegations of being a Spanish spy. In contemporary times, in the United States, prisoners placed on death row are normally executed by means of a lethal injection. It is essential to mention that, the U.S is among very few developed countries which still maintain capital punishment. Furthermore, it extremely few countries, which execute mentally sick persons, individuals with extremely low IQ, as well as juvenile criminals. Astonishingly, a huge percentage of individuals as well as the majority of conformist religious denominations in the U.S are pro-life on issues related to abortion and pro-death in regard to capital punishment. These people usually rationalize this position by alleging that they are fundamentally pro-innocent life (Beccaria 102).
As of the year 2010, fifteen states in the U.S had eliminated capital punishment, and nineteen have not refrained from executions since the year 2009. It is evident that, capital punishment is prevalent in the Southern states. In the year 2002, sixty one out of seventy one executions were performed in the Southern states. Away from the South, only California, Missouri, and Ohio had performed executions. Between the years, 1976, when capital punishment recommenced, until 2009, the U.S has witnessed 1,188 executions. This figure includes sixty six executions in 2001, seventy one executions in 2002, and sixty five executions in 2003. There were fifty nine executions in 2004, sixty executions in 2005, fifty three executions in 2006, forty two executions in 2007, thirty seven executions in 2008, and fifty two executions in 2009 (Bedau 65).
Deterrent Effects of Capital Punishment. In the U.S, the question as to whether capital punishment acts as a crime deterrent crime has been subject to debate for decades. The original participants in this debate were criminologists and psychologists. The research carried out by these criminologists and psychologists, was theoretical or founded on comparing crime patterns, in the states with, as well as, the states without capital punishment. On the other hand, since they did not employ multiple-regression statistical approaches, the analyses were not capable to make a distinction between the effects that capital punishment has on murder, from the effects of a diversity of other factors. Several studies allege that commutations, pardons, as well as exonerations, cause an increase in murder, while other studies argue that the time required to complete appeals abates the deterrent effect of execution (Batchelder 63).
There is emergence of new research on deterrence that has been declared as persuasive in academic journals and by outstanding jurists and scholars. Legal academics find the new deterrence proof to be impressive and powerful. They connect it with several decades of consistent data concerning the deterrent effects of capital punishment as the basis of their argument. Their argument holds that, given that capital punishment effectively deters murders, there is an ethical imperative to uncompromisingly prosecute capital offences. Several scholars concur, while finding the proof persuasive. On the other hand, some jurists disregard the apprehension concerning the potential execution of innocent people as executions are enforced in order to realize increased deterrent effects (Paul 3).
Topical studies that detach murders that are deemed as capital-eligible show no noteworthy change in the fullness of time in the rate of murders that are capital-eligible, notwithstanding the variations in the rate of execution. The computations in statistical models are repeatedly flawed. For instance, uncomplicated corrections for huge amounts of mislaid data generate estimates of the deterrent effect that are not different from chance. Employing alternating statistical models, models that explain the strong statistical relationship of murder rates in consecutive years, also generates results that demonstrate that changes in murder rates are statistically isolated to any degree of capital punishment. The studies may as well, irrationally inflate the deterrent effects of executions by disregarding the analyses in done in 1998, thus, not including later years whereby murders reduced, as did the executions. Other studies find the proof of deterrence extremely unstable and fragile, with deterrence estimates changing uncontrollably with the slightest modifications or adjustments either in statistical methods or measurement. Such volatility ought to signal prudence in causal inference, as well as in utilizing these data in informing policy decisions (Beccaria 105).
It is intricate to show categorically the non-existence or existence of any deterrence effect since correlations discovered, or not discovered, in statistical analysis do not entail causation. It is evident that, any individual who refrains from committing capital crimes, owing to a hypothetical deterrent effect of capital punishment, will by definition, on no account be captured in any statistic. This is regardless of the theory that the commencement of capital punishment ought to imply the resultant commencement of a deterrent effect, if any. This should generate a downward movement in crime numbers. The graph below demonstrates that the rates of murder in different states in the U.S that employ capital punishment are higher, compared with the rates in states that do not apply capital punishment.
According to the graph above, it is apparent that deterrence does not work. However, this can only be verified when capital punishment ceases to be applied for several years in the future. This would be an appropriate approach in the states that currently apply capital punishment. It would then be accurate to conclude that capital punishment has deterrent effects, in the event that the rates of murder rate following capital punishment abolition do not rise. However, the murder rates may fail to increase owing to other factors. The graph below portrays a different scenario:
Disparities in Capital Punishment Application across States. There are immense disparities in capital punishment application across states. For instance, states differ extensively in their perceived definitions of capital offences, their incidence of imposing capital penalties, their incidence of executions, their execution methods, and the executions’ publicity. These essential disparities may affect the impact of deterrence States’ executions (Paul 7).
Disparities amongst States. An issue that depicts the necessity for a federalized capital punishment is the vast differences between States. Firstly, a number of States apply capital punishment while some other States do not. In the States that apply capital punishment, there are vast distinctions in the incidence of the application of capital punishment, differences in execution methods, and dissimilarity in the types of offences that are carry a punishment by death. In the States that apply the death sentence, there are distinctions by county as to how frequently they seek the death sentence. There was a case from Maryland that is principally alarming. In this case forum shopping was employed to seek the death sentence against Kevin Johns a Maryland defendant. It occurred that Johns murdered another inmate while on a bus transporting them across prisons. The bus travelled across four counties, thus, making it difficult for the authorities to establish where the crime took place. Prosecutors had the case tried in the Baltimore County since the death sentence was sought more in Baltimore County than in the other three counties. In a federalized capital punishment system, this type of forum shopping can be abolished. The federalized system would also place everybody in the country in an equivalent position in so far as the eligibility for capital punishment is concerned. This would mean that, defendants would not be sentenced to death, for their crimes for the reason that they live in the wrong States (Shepherd 12).
There are significant regional distinctions in the United States. Sixteen states do not allow capital punishment, and in eight of the states that allow capital punishment, have not performed an execution in twelve years or more. It is noteworthy that twenty-six of fifty three jurisdictions in the United States, fifty states, the Federal Government, the Military, and the District of Columbia, either do not apply capital punishment or have not performed an execution in over a decade. The majority of those States have not performed an execution, since capital punishment was re-established in 1976. A few as twenty States performed an execution in 2010, and seven States performed more than one, principally in the South. The map below shows the States that apply capital punishment, and the States that do not apply capital punishment in the U.S.
Capital Punishment Map of the United States
State By State Depiction of Inmates on Death Row in the U.S
In the United States, the average duration of time an inmate may spend on death row is fifteen years. In the year 2009, of 3173 prisoners on death-row, 113 had been in prison for above twenty nine years. The diagram below shows the State by State depiction of inmates on death row in the U.S (Shepherd 22).
The question begs as to whether capital punishment can reduce the incentive to commit homicide and be a solid ultimatum to criminals. As it has been demonstrated in this paper, it is difficult to establish the fact one way or the other. Capital punishment is much more probable to act as a deterrent, in the event that the crime necessitates preparation and the potential criminal has adequate time to reflect on the likely consequences. On the other hand, where the offence is committed in ad hoc, there is no possibility that any penalty would act as a deterrent. In this regard, there is a spirited argument for ensuring that murder committed in such ad hoc circumstances not punished by death or for establishing degrees of murder. However, anti-death sentence activists constantly argue that, death cannot be a deterrent, and frequently site several studies based on American states to attest their point. In the opinion of this paper, capital punishment is a deterrent to reduce the incentive to commit homicide and can be a solid ultimatum to criminals.
Batchelder, N. Reasons to Abolish the Capital Punishment: Oklahoma Coalition to Eradicate the Death Sentence. Journal of Legal Studies, 14.8 (2011) pp. 61-73. Print.
Beccaria, C. Crimes & Punishments and Related Writings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2009. Print.
Bedau, H. Death Penalty in America: Contemporary Controversies, New York: Oxford University Press. 2011. Print.
Bosworth, M. Race & Punishment, Punishment and Society, 2.1 (2010) pp14–18. Print.
Paul, Z. Deterrence, State Executions, & the Incidence of Homicide. Applied Econ, 24.8 (2011) pp. 3-7. Print.
Shepherd, J. Executions, Deterrence, & the Characteristics of the Victim. Criminal Justice Studies,(2011) pp12- 22. Print.
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